Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Nothing At The Pump

Solage, Calistoga, California, USA

April 11, 2009



This essay, Nothing At The Pump, is the ninth in a group of fifteen on Nothing:

Classic Shell Gas Pump courtesy auglaizecoshoppingmall.com
Classic Shell Gas Pump
So I'm standing here pumping gas. The van has about half a tank left, but with another three hours driving to go, I'm not taking any chances.

It's one of those tiny country gas stations. There's two gas pumps on each of two islands. There's a small rickety store with coffee which although hot, tastes like it was brewed yesterday. The pastries, which evidently arrived with the coffee, have begun to harden. Surrounding the gas station are freshly plowed bone dry fields. There's a thin layer of dust everywhere. Anything I touch now has imprints of my fingertips on it. The place looks like it was built right in the middle of a vineyard.

I give the attendant a couple of twenties, then start dispensing gas.

That's the picture. I'm nonchalantly pumping gas. This isn't the kind of place you'd consider as the backdrop for an experience. It's not a temple. It's not a church. It's not an ashram. It's not a synagogue or a mosque. Nor is it a kramat. It's not a monastery, and it's not a Zen center either. It's a country gas station, of all places, and it's a funky  country gas station at that. And I'm standing here pumping gas.

That's when I get it. It comes on fast.

One instant, it's the mundane, the daily ordinary uninteresting act of pumping gas, the minutiae  of the humming of the pump's electric motor, the almost inaudible sound of liquid gasoline rushing through the hose, the resistance of the sprung dispenser trigger against my fingers ...

The next instant, it's ... nothing  ...

It comes on like a kind of marvelous emptiness palpable in the midst of the minutiae. The marvelous emptiness seems to start inside  me.

Listen. I know that's not a very powerful distinction. "Inside  me" isn't very powerful in the way I just said it. It's not, in my opinion, a very useful  distinction either. When we say "There's a good feeling inside  me", where exactly is "inside  me"? Am I hollow? It's not useful. Yet now that I've distinguished it, to say the marvelous emptiness seems to start "inside  me" is good enough for jazz.

So it seems to start inside me, then quickly spreads outside me  - another not very powerful not very useful distinction, but one which will do  here. Pretty soon it includes my entire experience. It becomes everything of my personal experience inside  me: my thoughts, my emotions, my sensations and feelings seem to melt into it, blur, become one with it, then disappear entirely, instead allowing pure naked presence. It quickly spreads till soon it becomes everything of my personal experience outside  me: the gas station, the dust, the the sounds of ... silence ... and ... nothing  ...

The semantics  of it challenge me: there's nothing  here, there's nothing  going on here, I'm not here  ... and yet who's experiencing this? I'm not here  ... and yet against who's or what's  listening and language platform is all this showing up?.

It's not uncomfortable. It's not unpleasant. It's just ... well ... it's just ... nothing. If anything, it's new  ... which is also interesting because I've stood here before. I've stood here before, here in this sudden nothing, so it's not really new at all ... yet it comes on like it's new  ... like some new ... "Oh ... my ... God"  ...

And I get it standing right here along with the minutiae  of the humming of the pump's electric motor, the almost inaudible sound of liquid gasoline rushing through the hose, the resistance of the sprung dispenser trigger against my fingers ... and I'm standing here, noticing I'm standing in nothing at the pump, and I notice I'm in total awe  ... of ... nothing  ...

Just then the prepaid gas dispenser reaches forty dollars. The gasoline stops flowing, the pump's electric motor stops, and immediately it  ie whatever it  is or was, is over - as suddenly and as miraculously as it began.

Slowly, like I'm learning movement all over again, I replace the nozzle into the pump, close the gas tank cap, get back in the van and drive off, watching the pump get slowly smaller and smaller in my wing mirror, looking back at the spot where nothing at the pump  showed up. I notice I'm wondering if the next driver to pump gas in that same place from that same pump at that same gas station would also suddenly be immersed in the experience of nothing at the pump.

Finally I lose sight of the pump and the gas station. I'm now accelerating close to fifty miles an hour. I start the window wipers to wash off the layer of dust which has settled on the front window.

That's when I notice something else.

That's when I notice I was one kind of human being when I drove up to the gas station and started pumping gas. And now, having passed through the portal of nothing at the pump, I notice I'm no longer the same kind of human being I was when I drove up to the gas station and started pumping gas.



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